The Early Paleolithic of the Normandie

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is an Acheulian Handaxe, found during the 19th century in the Normandy ( picture courteously provided by Sergio Gomes). Handaxes, highly visible in the landscape were the preferred tools, that were collected during the early times of Prehistory and were used to shuffle together large collections. 

First references to Acheulean artifacts gathered in the brickyards of the Upper Normandy, appear in the literature during the second half of the 19th century. These collections comprise mainly bifacial pieces collected by the workers during the extraction of the brick earth. The exact stratigraphic position of industries remained often unclear. Many of these tools were stored in Municipal Museums, for example at Evreux (

Based on the older literature and new discoveries, a systematic review was given by Bordes in his thesis (1954). He tried, with some success to allocate the findings to the local and well developed loess stratigraphy in Northern France. With the advent of modern excavation and dating techniques and a critical view on the taphonomic problems arising from the embedment of artifacts in fluvial deposits and river terasses, the dating of in-situ industries has become the most important aim of Lower Paleolithic archaeology of this region. The recognition of site function and settlement systems has progressed, but the results are sometimes poor, due to the disturbed context or incomplete  preservation  of faunal and organic remains of many sites.

Usually Acheulian occupations in the Normandy are limited through the lower valley of the Seine, with a western extension corresponding to the Orne valley. However, few reportable Acheulian sites are to be found in the Amorican Massif (Equeurdreville, Digulleville, and Montfarville).

The earliest settlements of the Lower Paleolithic in the Normandy are associated with silty deposits and alluvial formations of the valley of Middle Seine at Saint-Pierre-les-Elbeuf. The archaeological level is located at the boundary between an Interglacial tufa allocated to MIS 11 and the loess cover, and is thus allocated to MIS 11-10 transition or Early MIS 10. The lithic comprise rare handaxes and numerous deticulates and scrapers. The bifaces were used as a blank for tools, a concept that would disappeare during MIS9.

In northern France, distant from the Normandy, Paleolithic sites of this age or even older are notoriously rare: The Acheulian industries of Saint-Acheul (Rue de Cagny) and Cagny la Garenne are dated by ESR to MIS 12, between 450 and 400 k.a. At Cagny la Garenne the excavations by Tuffreau have revealed a series of archaeological levels contained in gravels and fine lenses of fluvial silts of the beginning of a glacial period. New and important results have been produced by re- investigations on the interglacial tufa sequence at La Celle, near Fontainebleau, a site already known since the 19th century. The few flint artifacts, recovered in an organic tufa layer, allowed the identification of a bifacial industry and demonstrated the occurrence of a human settlement in association with an interglacial fauna dated from MIS 11.

A very interesting site is Digulleville (Manche). At this site, dating to the penultimate interglacial and early penultimate glaciation (around 200 to 200 k.a, OIS7), several levels of occupations have been recognized. Simple artifacts, devoid of handaxs were made from a great diversity of local rock-pebbles, other than flint (sandstone, granite, quartz, micro-granite, diorite, and dolerite). All these raw materials came from an environment close to the coastline and may represent a larger “pebble tool” concept, that was used during the Lower Paleolithic along the Atlantic facade (from the Pas de Calais to Portugal).

The Orne valley exhibits not only a high number of Mousterian ensembles from the last glaciation, but also well preserved sites from the beginnings of the Middle Paleolithic in the Normandy. Ranville, a carstic site, is dated to MIS 7 (230- 200 k.a. BP) and showed two artifact ensembles. The older ensemble includes simple pebble tools extracted from the nearby river, the more recent stratum associated with fauna is characterized by flint, sandstone and quartz artifacts. The technique is flake oriented, using non prepared blocks and a recurrent unipolar flake production. Alongside with this ensemble there are few bifaces and a large quantity of sandstone and quartz pebble tools. Microlithic tools at the site resemble lithics from the famous Lower Paleolithic Bilzingsleben Site (OIS11) or the Schöningen site with its famous wooden spears of same age. Faunal analysis showed, that Ranville was a butchery site (Elephant, Rhinoceros, Wild Ox, Red Deer). Acheulian sites are rare at the Orne. At Olendon a non-dated well developed handaxe industry along with the Levallois technique is contested.

It has to remember that the Levallois technology in W- Europe appeared  already during early OIS 8 (Orgnac 3, Baume Bonne, Bakers Hole, Crayford), was present during OIS7 at Biache-Saint-Vaast II and Maastricht-Belvedere, and very common during OIS6. After OIS6 other techniques become more important (discoidal  techniques, Quina technique, laminar technique), but the Levallois technique s.s. never disappears until the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. In the Normandy the Levallois technology in situ was present during the MIS 6 at the Saint-Saëns  ” Le Pucheuil” site (series B), while at the same site elongated handaxes have been found in derived position at the MIS8/7 boundary (series C).

The  Normandy shows a great variability during the Lower Paleolithic and the early Middle Paleolithic and much more diversity, than was assumed some years ago.  It becomes more and more difficult to label the Lower Paleolithic Normandy industries simply  “Acheulian”.

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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